Thursday, December 5, 2013

What this elf is baking this holiday season

At this time of year, I like to think of myself as a little kitchen elf.  A very happy, joyful little elf who's just content to cook up meals and treats during this cozy time of year.  

I have many things I'd love to bake this month.  I know you can relate!  Realistically, there's only so much time and capacity.  And when it comes down to it, a lot of the baking and gift-giving has to happen right around that week before Christmas so we're working with a very narrow time-frame.  So while there are plenty of cookie, cake, candy recipes I'd love to get to, I end up trying just a few new recipes because there are some true favorites that we just have to have for the holidays.  I thought it'd be fun to share some of these musts with you today.  I'm sure you have your own holiday favorites (and probably don't need any more ideas from me - so consider this pure entertainment)...and I'd love to hear about some of yours if you feel like sharing!

*  First up...these Italian tri-color cookies.  These are one of the best things I learned to bake!  My family and I just love them with a passion.  I love using Scharffen-Berger bittersweet chocolate here; it tastes amazing and gives these "cookies" a genuine chocolate flavor that you might not get from the bakery. We have to have these at Christmastime (and other times of the year) - sometimes I make two batches if time allows.  They are time consuming to make but the recipe makes a big batch and the cookies freeze really, really well so they are a great make-ahead!  I save some for Christmas day because they're that special.

You know I love these cookies so much, I even turned them into mini cupcakes - a little (time-saving) twist I'm actually pretty proud of.

* When I think Christmas cookies specifically, this next cookie is the one.  I really only make these at Christmastime but I think this may have to change because it's just too amazing!  These chocolate gingerbread cookies are soft and chewy, like the best kind of chocolate chip cookie but with fresh ginger and holiday spices that I crave right now.  Even if you're not a fan of gingerbread per se (and I'm not), this is something to try because it'll knock your socks off.  It has the perfect amount of spices and it's so unusual, perfect for the holidays. 

* Given my serious love of baked goods with almond paste, these almond cookies are a must.  I make them all year-round but they are essential at Christmastime.  It helps that I can often get almond paste on sale this time of year, and I stock up.

The classic pine nut/pignoli version is great, too.  I like them all sorts of ways.

* For gift-giving (and munching), I love this toffee recipe. I've made it the last two Christmases and I intend to do it again.  They make great gifts and stored in a tin at room temperature, you can enjoy them for weeks.

* I made these peppermint brownies below on a whim last December and they turned out to be such a successful experiment.  I originally made them as a teacher's gift and my son fell in love after a taste.  It's based on a few recipes I cobbled together but the end result is a super moist, chocolate-mint brownie thanks to unsweetened chocolate and some Andes Mints.  It's fun to play dress-up for the holidays and the extra dark chocolate drizzle and peppermint candy on top make them sparkle.


and...


* For a real classic, I have to make sugar cookies!  No question about it.  I've got a little sugar cookie decorating party in the works for my little one that should be interesting.  Kids (and adults) just can't resist these so it's really nice to have around Christmastime.  I like to freeze some (already baked and decorated with sprinkles, wrapped individually) and they defrost beautifully so we can have these festive cookies on our Christmas day platter.

 Last but not least, I've got bananas on standby right now because I'm giving them time to fully ripen so I can make several batches of our favorite banana bread.  Pictures (or at least my pictures) don't do it justice.  With fully ripened bananas, it is the most delicious thing - so moist from yogurt, full of fragrant banana flavor, and loaded with chocolate chips.  There's just a hint of ground ginger - (I've played with the spice I use but ginger is my favorite) in it.  I like to make 3 small loaves instead of one large so I can pack some up to give as gifts.  They freeze incredibly well so it's great to stock up for busy holiday eating and to just enjoy during Christmas vacation.  


It's entirely possible - and likely - that a few other favorites will sneak their way onto our table but these are the recipes I'll surely be making this month. I'm looking forward to trying a few new recipes, too.  Hopefully, I'll get lucky and find a new favorite or two.  I know my son will surely be requesting those Nutella-hazelnut crinkles again.


Happy Holidays!!



40 comments:

  1. wow lots of great holiday bakes, Monica. I love particularly those pine nut cookies.

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  2. oh. my. goodness. gracious.
    can you live by me so we can do a cookie exchange?!?! and by "exchange," i mean you make the cookies and i will "exchange" them into my face. ;)
    this year, those tri-colors and the pignoli cookies are on my list to make. i've never made either, but i know i would love both of them.

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    1. lol! You are too funny, Shannon. Thank you! I'm sure there are magical treats being whipped up in your house right now. Seriously, the tri-color cookies are insanely good. Every time I eat them, I say a thank-you to the incredible Italian people who created the masterpiece. I'm really serious! : ) The pignoli ones are really good and they come together so fast (unlike the tri-colors)...I make those anytime I want to make some quick yet really good!

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  3. Oh my goodness Monica, all these cookies and treats look gorgeous! Hehe, you are not helping my baking list stay small this year since I now want to sample all of your yummy treats - I wish I could come to your house when you whip these up to get a taste ;) I absolutely love how pretty and festive the tri-color cookies came out, wish I could reach through the screen and grab one of each :) So glad you are enjoying the holidays so far my dear friend and hope you enjoy the rest of the week:) xo

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    1. I wish we could get together and have some cookies and hot chocolate together, Kelly! : ) I bet you have plenty of good stuff on your list. I can't wait to see all your other December posts. You take care and don't bake too hard now... ; )

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  4. Well now I'm hungry Monica!!! I want everything! Though I wouldn't mind if you threw some shortbread cookies in there ;)

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    1. Thanks, Davida! The problem with committing to a list is having to pick and exclude. There are so many good eats out there...a good problem to have!

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  5. Such a great post!! I wish you were a little elf in MY kitchen too! :)

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    1. haha - thank you, Marie! I wish I could be an elf in Santa's village working in the cozy kitchen baking cookies and cakes for everyone. The child in me is jumping out in December! ; )

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  6. Those pine nut cookies are fab! I need to bake EVERYTHING on this list ;)

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    1. Thanks, Consuelo! I have a feeling you will be baking a ton more to come this month. Yay for that!

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  7. Great recipe round-up Monica! I really like the chocolate gingerbread cookie recipe you have. Love the idea of that flavor combination. And the peppermint brownies look awesome. So dense, chocolatey and delicious! And everything else just look spectacular, YUM! This time of the year, I really love baking with eggnog. I personally don't drink it the traditional way, but love it in baked goods and lattes. Don't work too hard in the kitchen this holiday season and I look forward to seeing what other goodies come up with. Have a great weekend my friend!

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    1. Oh those gingerbread ones are insanely good, particularly slightly warm from the oven! There are chocolate chunks in there so it's real chocolate but so much spice that's not over-powering somehow. I don't even like too much spice and I just love those. I made the first batch last week and my husband & I were rolling our eyes remembering how tasty they are. I'm making another batch next week! Great idea on the eggnog. I have never baked with it (or drank it, I don't think)...And thank you - I won't work too hard. When/if it ever becomes too much, I pull back. No point unless it's enjoyable!

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  8. It's great to live near your house during holiday season! :D I bet your cookie jars are always filled with new cookies... right? The pine nut cookies are very interesting. I've never had it before.

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    1. Surprisingly, I don't always have a lot of sweets around. I bake in small batches and just keep making little bit of this and that. Lately, I like stocking a few things in the freezer though. The pine nuts ones are so good - chewy, full of almond flavor, toasted pine nuts...yum!

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  9. Oh my gosh those Italian tri-colored cookies - I grew up on those! I would have never thought to make them at home! My mom and grandma always bought them from a local bakery.... and now I have more things I want to make this season haha Too many recipes!

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    1. Ashley - the tri-colors are possibly our favorite cookie, if you can call them cookies. So, so good! I think my husband would like that as his birthday "cake" and I'm so happy I learned to make them at home - save a lot of money!

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  10. We make so many similar cookies for the holidays! I always make those tricolors also, and the pignoli cookies as well! They are necessary.

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    1. Yay! Those are some of my favorites, Joanne! I bet you bake up a storm and they're all amazing!

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  11. You have been baking up a storm!!! I am in love with those tri cookies because I am such a big kid and I love a lot of colors..

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    1. You're my kind of girl! The colors are definitely hard to resist! When I made the little cupcakes, I asked my son if we can just leave them and he was like "no!" I can understand...so pretty, but tastes even better. : ) Happy Holidays!

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  12. What a DELICIOUS POST Monica! :) Everything in this post made me drool !!!!! I particularly couldn't peel my eyes off the pine nut cookies and the ones with almond paste!!! And yes, the toffee for gifting!!!! Super cool!!!! :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Samina. This is such a fun time of year! Glad you see things that you like!

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  13. I want to be your neighbor. That is some collection of beautiful treats. My kids would love the tricolor cookies and I know I'd not share the pignoli cookies.
    Seriously Monica, your post just made me crave for cookies and I feel like grabbing a few off the screen.
    Great ideas my dear.

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    1. haha - thank you, Asha, for all your kinds words all the time. The pignoli ones seem to be popular. : ) This is definitely the time for some cookies to go with those cups of hot chocolate!

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  14. I love sugar cookies, but my favorite holiday treat is anything chocolate combined with peppermint! Those brownies look great.

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    1. You can't go wrong with a simple sugar cookie or peppermint & chocolate.

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  15. Rainbow cookies are on my list of things to make at Christmas! We had a dear family friend who passed away unexpectedly last year and he was KNOWN for his rainbow cookies. I got a hold of the recipe he used and am hoping to carry on the torch. I hope mine are as good as his. What a great lineup you have here! Pignoli cookies are a personal favorite of mine- love that almond flavor ;)

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    1. It's so sad about your family friend's passing. It's a very nice gesture of you to make his rainbow cookies. I'm sure they will be much loved.

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  16. You are a busy little elf! Great selection of cookies and cakes, I really like the look of the toffee! I'll be checking that recipe out. Happy baking!

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    1. Ha - yes, I enjoy being a busy elf this time of year. Glad you like the toffee. I was so nervous the first time I made it but it's been a success. Happy baking to you too. Enjoy the holidays!

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  17. I wish I had a little elf like that in my kitchen:-) What a fabulous collection of baked goods! I like all of them but I have my eyes on the tri coloured cookies. Your friends will be delighted to receive such beautiful gifts. Here the weather is really warming up but I am still enjoying baking. My list is endless...like yours:-)

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    1. Those are possibly our very favorite, all year round! I'm sure you are baking up a storm and all the treats are both beautiful and delicious!

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  18. What a fabulous collection! I want to try all of them! So much baking to do and so little time!

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    1. Thanks so much, Christin! Definitely take it easy and just do what you can. The kitchen is a cozy and comforting little place.

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  19. Such a wonderful post Monica! All the cookies look delicious and what a great idea of sharing multiple bakes. I so admire how organised you are!

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    1. Thanks, Jo! I'm only fairly organized...I just keep things on a small scale, not too much to overwhelm me. I can't really do anything on a grand scale but at least I know my limits and that helps. : )

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  20. Augh all of these look so yummy, I want to eat everything! Nice job Monica!

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    1. Thanks so much, Tiffany! Happy Holidays to you and I hope you are enjoying lots of treats and having a relaxing time. : )

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